The more time I spend reading and having discussions in keto and carnivore groups the more I notice the dogma and misinformation that is spread. Unfortunately these two very healthy diets are becoming as bad as Veganism for it’s level of unscientific and dogmatic views. We need to be willing to be wrong and when we find evidence to falsify our hypothesis we need to course correct and admit we were wrong and why. If we don’t stop ignoring some facts and common sense, this way of life will never be accepted by the mainstream.
Three of those views are:
- Carbs are evil in every sense of the word and can never be beneficial.
- Protein can be consumed ad libitum and will never turn to glucose.
- Calories don’t matter. I’ve been guilty of saying this in the past.
These are the views I want us to get real about and realize that nothing is black and white. Everything is very very grey.
The first thing we are going to talk about is Carbs are evil:
As most of you know, I have been on a ketogenic diet for the better part of 15 years. I started off like everyone else that found keto and saw success and I feared carbs. I thought for sure that carbs in and of themselves caused all disease and made us fat. I spent 10 years doing high intensity Crossfit on zero carbs and while I was fairly successful, I feel my body composition changes were slow. I also got sucked into the trap of low calories. I saw a memory recently from myself complaining that I was eating 1500 calories a day and exercising 6 days a week and not losing weight. I am sure many of you resonate with that.
One fine day I was listening to a podcast about a fruitarian that was eating 50lbs of fruit and veg a day and he was lean and 130lbs. This made me laugh immediately, for one simply because there is no way in hell that anyone could eat 50lbs of any kind of food in a day, and two because he would be fat in no time from all the carbs. I decided to give it a try for the sake of science and to prove I would get fat.
Of course I couldn’t eat 50lbs so I aimed to get 2100 cals a day which was below my normal intake but I was so scared I would gain weight I wanted to mitigate it. I was consuming in excess of 300g of carbs every day.
You can read about that here:
This was probably my most valuable experiment I ever conducted. It taught me more about how little we know than anything else ever could have.
These were the major take aways:
- It is nearly impossible to over eat on a whole food plant based diet. You just can’t get that much food into you. I was stuffed and had a hard time reaching my target calories.
- Not only did I not gain weight, I lost weight.
- My blood glucose was absolutely normal and healthy.
This led me to have to figure out why I didn’t get fat despite eating 300 plus grams of carbs every day. How did I lose weight? Why was my blood sugar control so good?
This led me to further my understanding of glycogen storage and how that contributes to insulin sensitivity and exercise. We have roughly 500g of glucose storage in liver and muscle. If we don’t exceed that storage level and we exercise at enough intensity to empty most of it, we will never get fat or insulin resistant. Especially if we are eating low fat. The reality is that carbs don’t make us fat. Carbs with fat make us fat. The carbs raise insulin and the fat gets stored. Just eating carbs alone can’t make us fat and just eating fat alone can’t make us fat. It requires both just like fire requires both oxygen and a spark. Oxygen won’t ignite or burn without a spark and a spark without a fuel wont make fire.
Here are some more articles that get deeper into insulin resistance and glycogen storage if you want to read more.
What causes insulin resistance?
Why carbs are a problem and when?
How does the body actually deal with carbs/fat/protein?
Carbs don’t make us fat and neither does fat!
I won’t get into how carbs can be beneficial here as this will be long enough. I will do another blog post on that another day. Just suffice to say that if you are an athlete that does alot of very high intensity training there is no fear of consuming carbs before that training and it can only increase our performance in that high intensity range. Do we need them? No. Can they help performance? Yes.
Now lets talk about protein in excess:
If you want to spot someone who knows nothing about human physiology you can spot them by saying something like “Protein doesn’t turn into cake in your body.” or “Gluconeogenesis is demand driven so protein doesn’t turn to glucose.”
These people have clearly never taken a basic biochemistry or Anatomy and Physiology course. This is like day one stuff. No protein doesn’t turn to cake because cake is a complex mix of fat and carbohydrate. Protein does however, verifiably turn to glucose in the human body.
Here is a study on healthy people where they traced amino acids using isotope tracers and followed them from ingestion all the way to glucose. Just 23g of protein resulted in the creation of 4g of glucose.
It gets higher and higher as the dose gets larger. We can only use so much protein for building and maintaining lean tissue. There is no logical answer to how we could possibly utilize all the protein we eat if we are consuming more than the body needs to maintain. Since we can go days and days without eating and see little to no loss of lean tissue then clearly our need for net new amino acids is not 300g per day. Donald K. Layman is arguably one of the leading experts on protein metabolism in the world. Both he and one of his proteges, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon have both said that if you consume 100g of protein you will get 60g of glucose. This is just a basic fact of human physiology.
Here is a youtube video with Gabrielle Lyon on protein.
Dr. Lyon trained with one of the foremost protein experts today, Donald K. Layman, and is herself a very credible source. At 35:10 she states:
“Out of 100g protein consumed we get 60g of glucose via gluconeogenesis.”
Hmmmmmm………..Protein expert says this. OK. Who says excess protein never gets converted to glucose? Not protein experts that is for sure.
Then again at 1:11:00
Dr. Lyon “A meat based diet is not a low carb diet. For every 100g of protein you get 60g of glucose.”
So yes, protein does get converted to glucose. Basic physiology and biochemistry. The question is does it matter? Yes and no.
For the active person it won’t matter a bit. The little bit of extra protein will get converted in the liver to glucose, that glucose will get shunted into glycogen in the liver and will be easily used when they exercise. Since it doesn’t ever leave the liver and go into circulation it doesn’t raise blood glucose, this is why people argue it doesn’t get converted at all, and it doesn’t spike insulin.
For the sedentary person it will matter. They can have this protein fill up glycogen in the liver and at that point it will start filling up muscle glycogen. The liver glycogen will get used bit by bit all the time but the muscle glycogen is retained for high intensity activity so it will stay there. Eventually they will saturate muscles if they don’t train it out. That leaves them only with liver glycogen which is only 100g. If they then continue with the protein loading they will overfill that at which point this glucose will get converted to fat and stored. This is why there are people every single day complaining of weight gain on the Carnivore diet. They are not training enough to empty out the glycogen made from the excess protein. Then people just tell them that this is “healing” or “muscle gain”. That is bullshit. You do not gain lean mass from just eating more protein. This is like saying that people will gain muscle just by taking steroids without training. You won’t. In order for muscle to grow they have to be trained. Just eating something or just taking drugs is not going to make you grow more muscle. The weight gain is some weight from the glycogen (4-6lbs can be gained from glycogen) and the rest is fat. End of story.
Lastly, lets talk about Calories:
Even I got caught in the trap of saying that calories don’t matter. It is a nice dream but unfortunately that is not reality. They do and keto and carnivore are not magic. The truth is that these diets work in different ways and the meaning of calories changes because hormones also matter. It doesn’t mean that only insulin matters and calories don’t. They both matter.
The problem we get into here is that simply cutting them to lose weight never works long term. This is not because they don’t matter. It is because they do matter. They matter very much. Cutting calories does not work long term because the body adapts to the calories you eat. The body does not want to lose fat. Fat is protective. As you cut calories the body will down regulate it’s energy output to match what you put in. This is why we lose less and less weight week after week on any diet. This is the body protecting itself from starving. So if we cut calories the body just stops using as much.
The problem with this is that people get frustrated when they stop losing weight and go back to eating crap and in large amounts. Because your body is now using less energy it means that you are now in a much larger caloric surplus than you were before. Now you gain weight quickly. This happens in every diet. Even keto and carnivore.
If you try and trick it by going even lower than yes, you will potentially lose more weight. Then you will adapt again and stop. You can’t keep dropping forever. It has to stop somewhere. Then you get frustrated and quit and it is even worse as your metabolism is slower.
It gets even worse if you have lost weight and gained it back. Every time you do this you have taught your body a lesson on how to not lose weight. It now understands the adaptation process and how to lower metabolism faster. Each time you do this lose and gain cycle you make your body better at not losing weight. This is why we have people that can’t lose weight no matter what they do. They have taught their body how to be experts at slowing metabolism and not losing weight.
How do we fix this?
Well if we look at some of the most successful dieters on the planet we would be looking at bodybuilders. They diet down to crazy low body fat and do it repeatedly at least once per year. How do the do it? Well some don’t. Some only get one or two shows then have to drop out because they arrive at the same issue as many people just trying to diet for weight loss and health. The ones that are successful practice metabolism management. It is often referred to as reverse dieting.
Reverse dieting is a controlled increase in caloric intake while keeping weight stable. This will bring the metabolism back up to a normal level so a new diet phase can be done again. The longer you reverse diet the more successful you will be at dieting again. Typically the recommendation is to reverse diet for as long as you did the weight loss diet.
I think that is enough getting real for today. We need to change the conversation. Stop being so dogmatic.
Carbs are not the sole cause of obesity or sickness. This is equally as crazy as vegans saying that fat alone is the sole cause of obesity and sickness. They are both required. The question is what combo is optimal.
Protein does convert to glucose and depending on who you are this may or may not matter.
Calories do matter. They just matter in slightly different ways depending on your bodies hormonal state.
I have started a new facebook group called Common Sense Keto Athlete. This group will be a place for people who don’t need to lose weight or are prioritizing performance over weight loss. The same rules will not apply to this group as in the main group. More open discussion will be allowed when it comes to carbs and protein and basically any other hack for performance.